Uganda: South Sudan conflict leaves women and children to cope as refugees

News Stories, 20 January 2014

© UNHCR/F.Noy
Sixty-five-year-old Adau arrived this month at Dzaipi Center with nine family members, including children and grandchildren, while her husband stayed behind.

ADJUMANI, Uganda, January 20 (UNHCR) Walk around Dzaipi transit centre in northern Uganda and you will see thousands of children running about, tents full of pregnant women, young mothers and newborns, and elderly women resting against trees. What you do not see are many men.

Women and children make up the vast majority of the nearly 50,000 people who have fled fighting in South Sudan to become refugees in neighbouring Uganda. Many have been made widows and orphans by clashes between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, as well as by other conflicts in the world's youngest state since early 2012.

"Many people died fighting, we have a lot of orphans and widows," says 24-year-old refugee Elijah Daniel Aber Bol Deng. "So many men died."

Nawal Ali Dut, 24, knows first-hand. Before coming here, she was already a refugee in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, from the country's northern neighbour, Sudan. Her husband, a Sudanese soldier, was killed in 2011, and the rest of her family died in aerial bombings in her home region, the Nuba Mountains.

When fighting broke out in Juba last month, she and her two young children were forced to find a new sanctuary. Speaking a different language from the mostly Dinka refugees in Dzaipi transit centre, she feels isolated.

"I have no one to protect me when people are fighting or to help me to set up a home," she says. "I am all alone and it is so hard." After learning of her plight, UNHCR introduced her to seven other Nuba families in the centre and they began sharing a communal tent and each other's company.

Other women and children are alone because their men have dropped them off here for safety and returned home to South Sudan. One was Chol Bok, 27, who left his family at Dzaipi transit centre. "I am going back," he said. "How can I stay and flee when I am a man? It is my country, I must stay."

UNHCR and its partners, including the government of Uganda, are trying to move South Sudanese refugees from the Dzaipi transit centre to settlements where they can receive better protection. The UN refugee agency is giving the new refugees in northern Uganda shelter, food, water, healthcare and basic protection with support from various NGOs and UN partners.

Children arriving alone are housed in a separate tent by Uganda Red Cross Society volunteers, who help them get the food and water they are entitled to. UNHCR is studying how to help women taking care of families on their own to build homes once they reach the settlements.

Those men who can be seen in the camp are often huddled in groups under trees or outside tents discussing the political situation back in South Sudan. Through phone calls, radio broadcasts and word of mouth they closely follow the politics at home.

Gabriel, 28, says the only way forward is peace, but not everyone realizes this yet. "For us that have gone to school, we like unity," he says. "For those that have not, they still like conflict."

Pastor Joseph Atem, is promoting peace and reconciliation at a temporary church he has set up at the entrance to Dzaipi transit centre. At his Sunday morning services he preaches forgiveness. During the week he walks around and listens to refugees' problems and discusses how to bring peace to South Sudan.

Elijah, at 24, doesn't want to remain a refugee all his life. He'd prefer to help shape a peaceful country back home without deadly quarrels among politicians. "We are just looking for peace we don't need anyone to lose his life because of leadership," he says. "Leadership is not just for one person, it is for all. We are all one people and we must come together."

By Lucy Beck in Dzaipi Transit Centre, Adjumani, Uganda

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Uganda: Sudanese Refugees Flee Rebel Attacks

On August 5, 2002, some 24,000 Sudanese refugees fled their homes in Achol-Pii camp in northern Uganda after a bloody attack by the Lord's Liberation Army rebel group. More than 60 refugees and many local villagers were killed in the attack.

Fearing further violence, displaced refugees trekked overnight to Lira, from where UNHCR trucked them to Kiryondongo, 100 km to the south-west. Kiryondongo site, a settlement already hosting 13,000 refugees, was temporarily extended to accommodate the Achol-Pii survivors until another site could be prepared.

Arriving families were initially accommodated at an expanded reception centre at Kiryondongo. After being registered, the new arrivals received UNHCR plastic sheeting, an emergency food ration and a 20 x 15-metre plot per family to build their own temporary shelter. UNHCR also distributed blankets and jerry cans. Additional latrines were also dug, new water pumps installed and a new emergency clinic was set up.

Uganda: Sudanese Refugees Flee Rebel Attacks

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

The signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the army of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January, 2005, ended 21 years of civil war and signaled a new era for southern Sudan. For some 4.5 million uprooted Sudanese – 500,000 refugees and 4 million internally displaced people – it means a chance to finally return home.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

South Sudan: Adut's strugglePlay video

South Sudan: Adut's struggle

Thousands in war-torn South Sudan have lost their homes and livelihoods. When seventeen year old Adut lost her parents, she also lost her childhood by taking on the role of mom and dad for her young siblings. But, despite the everyday struggle, she is finding new skills and new hope in exile.
South Sudan: Grandma Abuk's ChildrenPlay video

South Sudan: Grandma Abuk's Children

Years of violence and bloodshed in South Sudan robbed Abuk of her seven children. When fighting returned last year, the old lady fled anew with her grandchildren, hampered by deteriorating eyesight.
South Sudan: No Home To Return ToPlay video

South Sudan: No Home To Return To

Philip and his family fled from their home in the South Sudan town of Bor last December and found shelter in the capital, Juba. Recently they decided to return home, despite the risks. It took three arduous days to get back, but then they got there they found that their home had been destroyed.